ABA Humane Education Program

The Animal Law and Law in Public Service committees of the Tort Trial and Insurance Practice (TIPS) section of the ABA is taking a bite out of crime– crime against animals, that is.

The committes are teaming up with Humane Education Advocates Reaching Teachers (HEART), a humane education organization, to work with children in school settings to sensitize them to animals’ needs and encourage them to think critically about their treatment of animals.

Humane education is not a new idea, and is widespread in the United States, by way of numerous animal shelters with side programs, as well as organizations devoted solely to this cause. Entire teaching manuals are now available for teachers and school systems to consult. Many resources are available online.

But the combination of law and lawyers with humane education seems a more recent concept, although I personally know of, and have volunteered with, one such program already in existence in New York.

I find this interesting because it taps into the chicken-vs-the-egg debate I often have with people regarding legal protection for animals:  does it begin with sensitizing people to the needs of animals, so as to predispose them to new laws which will later be passed, thereby easing enforcement because you then have a population of people who are likely to happily follow the new laws?  Or, conversely, does it begin with laws being passed which initially force unwilling people’s actions, but over time sensitize them to the reasons for the laws, thereby altering their perceptions of animals’ needs, and eliminating the need to force them at all?

I tend to believe that we need to work from both ends of the spectrum simultaneously. Joint law-humane education programs are interesting because they do just that. I suppose it is too early just yet to observe the results.

For those interested in learning more about this ABA program, here is a description cut and pasted from an email being circulated:

“TIPS solicits lawyer and law student volunteers from the ABA
membership, and from the membership of state or local bar
associations, to work on implementing humane education programs in
their local schools. This public service project has been developed
for elementary school children in 4th and 5th grades. In its pilot
phase in the spring of 2009, the project will be implemented in New
York City and the District of Columbia where interested volunteers
will be trained by HEART’s instructional staff to offer a four-lesson
humane education program. We plan to expand the geographical reach of
this public service program over time.

Humane education examines many of the challenges facing our world, and
the specific lessons we are offering focus on people’s relationships
to animals and the environment. With studies that show there is a
direct link between one’s treatment of animals and one’s treatment of
people, along with the growing concern for the state of our planet,
these lessons are imperative for creating a more peaceful and
sustainable world. During the program students will consider the
choices they make in their own lives and consider how they can do the
most good in the world and cause the least amount of suffering to
themselves, other people, animals, and the earth. The program invites
students to become problem-solvers, engaged young citizens, and
conscious choice-makers so that their lives become part of the
solution to persistent challenges.

The vision of humane education is to instill in students positive
character traits like compassion, responsibility, tolerance, and
integrity and to deepen their awareness of the power of their daily
choices. We are offering our four-lesson program at no cost to
schools. This program has been embraced enthusiastically by students,
teachers, school administrators, parents, government officials,
foundations, and private individuals alike.

If you are interested in participating in this public service project
in NYC or in DC, please contact the following people:

NYC (free training workshop on March 14, 2009): Meena Alagappan, Chair
of the ABA-TIPS Animal Law Committee, at alagappan.meena@gmail.com

DC (free training workshop on March 8, 2009): Joan Schaffner, Chair
Elect of the ABA-TIPS Animal Law Committee, at jschaf@law.gwu.edu”

-Suzanne McMillan

Diet & Climate Change

This post over at Prettier than Napoleon (cool name for a blog, no?) about the carbon footprint of various dietary regimes bears noting.  Commendably, it cites the high carbon footprint of meat-based diets.  It then claims, however, that since the carbon footprint of eating chicken is lower than that of eating beef, the data put environmentalists and animal rights folk at odds.  This reasoning is mistaken for a number of reasons.

First, the world’s carbon crisis demands drastic changes in lifestyle — changes of a scale that simply eating more chicken will not address.  Few if any knowledgeable environmentalists would advocate shifting to chicken from beef as an effective way to mitigate climate change.

Second, the idea that animal advocates’ wish to see fewer animals (including chickens) killed and environmentalists’ desire to reduce the world’s carbon footprint generates a fundamental conflict between the two camps (such as they are) is simply illogical.  Putting aside the fact that many environmentalists (including your blogger) are also animal advocates, it is impossible to escape the fact that the ideals of eating less meat (of whatever sort) and saving the planet are not at variance.

Just a few thoughts for a Friday afternoon.


The [Animal] Law of Evidence

Colin Miller over at EvidenceProf Blog examines the evidentiary issues underlying an animal cruelty prosecution in Texas.  In  Vevrecka v. State, 2009 WL 179203 (Tex.App.-Hous. 2009), the defendant was charged with cruelty to five dogs found on her property (their condition was so dire that 4 were later euthanized).  As part of her defense, the defendant wished to present evidence of her past treatment of animals in her care.  The court denied her request.  She was convicted and then appealed.  The appeals court upheld the conviction.  As Professor Miller explains:

I think an analogy explains why this was not sufficient habit evidence.  Assume that Vevrecka were accused of child endangerment/abandonment regarding her children and wanted to present “habit” evidence concerning her diligent care of children in her role as a Big Sister or temporary foster parent.  This might be evidence of some type of habit by the accused, but it would not be evidence of a habit relevant to her trial for child endangerment/abandonment regarding her children on an everyday basis.

Read the full post here.

David Cassuto

Raising Duck Liver

D’Artagnan, Inc. has reluctantly agreed to stop claiming in its advertising that the ducks whose engorged livers are used in its foie gras are “hand-raised with tender care under the strictest of animal care standards.” They further have ceased saying that the ducks’ livers are “not diseased” but “simply enlarged.”  The company’s shift comes in response to a decision by the National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, which concluded that the claim about the ducks’ livers was not adequately substantiated.  The NAD further concluded that the claim about the degree of care the animals receive “suggests a level of care and oversight that is not supported by the evidence provided by the advertiser and is inconsistent with the evidence in the record.”  Full story here.

This would all seem like a major coup — the self-regulating arm of the advertising industry smacks down the deceptive rhetoric of the duck liver trade.  The celebration pales, however, when one views the revised claims now found on the company’s website.  The statement that “The liver is not diseased, simply enlarged,”  now reads : “According to published research * (partially funded by animal welfare agencies), the liver is enlarged but not diseased.”  The tender care claims have been refashioned as well.  The company claims that: “The art of raising ducks and geese for foie gras combines a low-stress environment (birds experiencing stress produce very low quality foie gras), high-quality corn, clean water, and kind handling.”

Pyrrhic victory anyone?

David Cassuto

Update: This excellent piece on the Bocuse D’Or cooking competition (more or less the cooking Olympics) has a stark and thoughtful discussion on foie gras.  Well worth a read.

Puppy Mills — Combating the Scourge

Following up on Suzanne’s fine post about puppy mills, it seems to me that the issue has pervaded both the traditional media and the blogosphere with increasing frequency of late (even Oprah did a show last year, as did NPR).  Perhaps this upsurge stems partly from the new era in Washington although I am still (patiently) waiting for some concrete signal that the Obama administration will concern itself with the plight of nonhumans.  In any event, there’s a good piece in the Daily Kos today about the fallout both from a particular puppy mill in Skagit County, Washington and from the larger industry.  Another informative post about it here.

David Cassuto

US Air Flight 1549 and Animal Welfare

According to Captain “Sully” Sullenberger, both engines of the A-320 carrying the 150 passengers that boarded US Air Flight 1549 at La Guardia were taken down by bird strikes. This generated a slew of articles, interviews and news clips about bird control management in U.S. airports. As it turns out, the FAA has a a set of “bird strike mitigation procedures” in place in an attempt to avoid accidents like the one that downed Flight 1549.

Unfortunately, most of these procedures cause significant stress to the birds. At Boston Logan’s airport, for example, they use propane cannons and other noisemakers to shoo away the birds.  The airports servicing New York and New Jersey uses guns, pyrotechnics and hunting hawks to drive away seagulls and other birds.

Are these “bird mitigation procedures” justified? I believe they are. Although birds certainly suffer as a result of these procedures, it appears that the benefits of engaging in the practice seem to outweigh the costs. According to the FAA, more than 100,000 aircraft have been damaged as a result of  bird strikes. Over 2,700 of them adversely affected the structural integrity of the plane. Imagine how high these numbers would be in the absence of airport bird mitigation procedures. Sometimes the strikes can be deadly. In 1960, for example, an Eastern Airlines plane crashed into Boston Harbor after being hit by a flock of birds. 62 people lost their lives. Air travel is a vital part of modern life. Large segments of the economy depend on the industry. Millions of people fly every year. Surely is is justified to inflict stress on some birds to enhance air safety.

The justification of using other bird mitigation techniques, however, is unclear. At Boston Logan, for example, they sometimes use marksmen to kill the birds with shotguns. Officials at Sacramento also authorize killing birds with shotguns when all else fails. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey kill thousands of birds every year in the marshes and tidal flats surrounding La Guardia and JFK.  Is it really necessary to kill thousands of birds with shotguns in order to increase air safety? Do other more humane methods exist to deal with the problem? How relevant to the moral calculus is it that we were the ones who created this problem in the first place? After all, we knew we were constructing major airports along the traditional bird migration routes.  As is usually the case, we invaded their space, not the other way around.

These practices have already triggered legal responses. Sacramento airport officials were forced to stop shooting birds by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in 2007. It appears that the practice violates state law. Sacramento officials are now seeking that a law be passed to authorize them to shoot the birds. A local conservation group opposes the measure claiming that the number of birds killed per year at Sacramento International Airport (891) is “ridiculous” and “unnecessary”. Although the group understands that birds have to occasionally be killed to ensure human safety, they contend that this can be achieved in almost every case by making use of non-lethal methods. Furthermore, they worry that “[i]f the bill passes as written…airports are going to take it as carte blancheto kill birds“. 

I’m willing to accept that some birds have to be killed in order to prevent human deaths. On the other hand, I’m not sure that airport officials are going about this the right way. Perhaps it is time for local conservation and animal welfare groups to get more involved in this matter.

Luis Chiesa

Progressing from “Agriculture” to “Food”

California recently passed a new law ending (in 2015) the most intensive forms of confinement for pigs, calves and egg-laying hens.  Now, California’s senate has renamed its agriculture committee the  “Senate Committee on Food and Agriculture”.

The committee will tackle the issue of how farmed animals are treated in state farms, and is requesting feedback from the public on exactly what issues it would like examined. I encourage everyone to contribute. Its website includes a poll asking which of 4 issues the reader cares about most. One choice provided is “animal welfare”.

This change is significant because, as the article cited above implies, the committee used to be “exclusively the domain of growers and food producers.”  Now it will expand its purview to include, as the article states, “consumer-related issues… and the treatment of farm animals.”  Senator Dean Florez, D-Shafter, will be heading the new committee. He states, as quoted, “animal welfare issues will be very much at the forefront. There’s no doubt that Proposition 2 was a wake-up call.”

And so the dominos keep falling: one progression leads to another.

-Suzanne McMillan